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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
VanGorder leaves Falcons to move to South Carolina

By Len Pasquarelli

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach Brian VanGorder has accepted the position of defensive coordinator at the University of South Carolina.

VanGorder knew his NFL future was uncertain after the resignation of head coach Bobby Petrino, and with pending changes within the organization on the horizon, he decided to make the move Wednesday.

The addition of VanGorder, who will be working in his fifth different job in five years, is the second major staff adjustment by Gamecocks' coach Steve Spurrier in two days. On Tuesday, the university announced the hiring of former Maryland assistant coach Ray Rychelski as special teams coordinator.

VanGorder, 48, replaces former South Carolina defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, who earlier this month was hired by the University of Mississippi. Rychleski replaces Fred Chatham, who was not retained by Spurrier. The changes come after a season that started promising and turned sour. South Carolina started 6-1 and ended the season on a five-game losing streak littered with breakdowns on defense and special teams.

"Blowing your assignment just can't be acceptable. We just do those things way too often," Spurrier said. VanGorder "is used to coaching very good defense. ... I got to believe we'll play better."

"And we got to play better on offense, too. We're not pinning our woes on defense and special teams," said Spurrier, South Carolina's play-caller. "Our offense made some yards, made a few touchdowns. [But] sometimes in the crucial times we didn't get it done. We got to coach better on offense."

Spurrier met with VanGorder on Tuesday and the two agreed on a three-year contract. Spurrier did not want to provide VanGorder's salary, although he's said during the search whomever he hired would earn more than Nix's package of $195,000.

Rychleski, who coached with the Terps the past seven seasons, agreed to a two-year deal.

This will mark VanGorder's second tour of duty as a defensive coordinator at an SEC program, and his sixth position as a defensive coordinator overall in the college ranks. He previously was the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia (2001-2004), Western Illinois (2000), Central Michigan (1998-99), Central Florida (1997), and Grand Valley State (1989-91).

VanGorder is the second assistant coach from Petrino's staff to depart the Falcons since the abrupt resignation of the head coach last Tuesday. Wide receivers coach Paul Petrino, the younger brother of the former head coach, requested and was granted a release from his contract with the NFL team.

In SEC and Southern football circles, VanGorder is a highly regarded defensive mind.

Since leaving Georgia following the 2004 season, he has served as the linebackers coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2005), the head coach at Georgia Southern (2006), and then in his position as Atlanta's linebackers coach.

Spurrier spoke with "four or five" candidates, including longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, before choosing VanGorder.

"I just think he's a real, good sharp guy who can really lead our defense," Spurrier said. "And he'll be in charge."

Spurrier didn't want Nix to leave. But "he knew it wasn't working all that well," Spurrier said.

Spurrier said he got assurances from VanGorder -- who had worked four different jobs the past four years -- that he was ready to end his reputation as a coaching nomad.

"I think at this point stability is very, very important to me and my family," he said. "The three-year contract is nice and I think that's a statement for everybody. My intentions are to be at South Carolina and to be there a long time."

He'll sneak in some time during his NFL job to watch film on the Gamecocks' defense. One priority is calling injured South Carolina star linebacker Jasper Brinkley about playing one more college season. "I think I'll do that right away," VanGorder said.

Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.